Don't worry about choosing an academic major. Except for a few specific fields leading to specific professional licenses (accounting, engineering and a few others), it won't matter whether your degree is anything from anthropology to zoology. No matter what field you're in today and what field you wind up in later (most people change careers several times over the course of their working lives), the ability to read critically, conduct research, write effectively, speak persuasively in public, work with numbers and work in teams will always be valuable attributes. If you have those capabilities, you can deal with almost any subject matter with which you are confronted. With careful course selection, you can develop those abilities in almost any academic field.
Having said this, it is also important to point out that several high-quality bachelor's degree programs specific to EMS exist. These include programs at the University of New Mexico, George Washington University and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) as well as others (see the sidebar Bachelor's Degree Programs in EMS).
These programs generally have two tracks, or options for study: clinical care and management. These programs have well-developed curricula that, aside from encompassing the core curriculum of the bachelor's degree, include classes--such as research methodology for EMS; EMS leadership development; EMS system design; EMS operations and management; leadership in EMS; special operations; EMS strategic planning; financial management of EMS systems; and coursework in disaster management/emergency preparedness--that reflect the reality of what EMS providers will see in the field. They are usually taught by faculty that are considered experts in EMS.
Remember that employers in EMS and nearly every other industry are looking for promotable employees. Executive seminars are filled with discussions about the importance of leadership development and succession planning. Pursuing and eventually earning a bachelor's degree speaks volumes about the character of the individual--specifically about their ability to set long-range goals, prioritize and follow through to the completion of a complex project. That's what leaders do, and completing an undergraduate degree attests that the individual can apply those essential traits to real-world situations. Some are concerned that if their degree took a long time to earn, it will appear less significant than one earned by a graduate who went the four-year, full-time route. To the contrary: A working man or woman who spent 10 years pursuing their BS at their own cost and in their spare time will appear, in the eyes of a promotion board or hiring manager, to be a determined, dedicated, capable individual--one who would be a tremendous asset to the organization.
EMS is at a crossroads. It is moving, ever so slowly, from being a transportation service with a little bit of medicine thrown in to becoming a service that bears responsibility for a growing portion of the community's healthcare needs. Our profession will require a strong educational base as it expands the services it provides and grows into to a stable, meaningful community contributor. Our colleagues who aspire to positions involving leadership, advanced clinical practice or technical expertise will require strong educational credentials to attain those aspirations. The time is now!
SIDEBAR: PAYING FOR SCHOOL
Look at aid packages. Aid packages include:
- Grants and scholarships (i.e., money you don't have to repay);
- Loans (from both the federal and state governments, with or without subsidized interest payments, as well as from private lenders);
- Work-study jobs arranged through the school that offset college costs while also allowing students to gain work experience.
Most aid is need-dependent--that is, it's based on things like your family income and assets and the number of children in college. Need-independent scholarships are awarded for specific fields of study or are based on a student's background, disabilities or other traits.
Start with the federal government. By far, the majority of student aid money (about 75%) comes through it. The government has tried to streamline the process of getting that money by creating a unified application form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Almost all financial aid based on demonstrated need requires that you complete a FAFSA. You need to complete it only once; then the information is available to the financial aid offices at all the colleges you apply to. The easiest way to complete the FAFSA is to go to www.fafsa.ed.gov. The application asks for information about your income, savings and other assets. It's best to have a copy of your latest income tax return on hand, since many of the questions ask for information from specific parts of that form.